Sunday, April 21, 2013

Most Terrorism is Not Islamic

The first person I talked to about the Boston Marathon Bombing - as soon as it came on the news - insisted it had to be jihadist.

Yes, everyone assumes that all or most terrorist attacks are carried out by Muslims.

When it turned out that the perpetrators were, in fact, Muslim, everyone immediately concluded (once again, in the absence of any evidence) that their religion must have something to do with their actions.  That could turn out to be true. But it is also possible that they were motivated by some Chechen liberation cause that had nothing to do with Islam (national liberation movements/sympathizers have committed more terrorist acts in the US than jihadists). And it is also possible that personal trauma (the best friend of one of the brothers was brutally murdered) or some other factor that has nothing to do with either their religion or ethnicity is really to blame. We just don't know. But the fact remains that all of the media discussions about the brothers' potential links to Al Qaeda and other Islamist groups just serves to reinforce the idea that all terrorists are Muslims and all Muslims are terrorists.

So I gave up on the media and started looking at the FBI's published lists of terrorist activity. What I found, overall, backs up the claim that about 6% of terrorist incidents in the U.S. are Islamic. I saw that there has actually been more Jewish terrorism than Islamic.  And just to give you a sense of how rare Islamic terrorism really is: there were more incidents involving the Earth Liberation Front in 2001 than incidents involving Muslims from 1980-2005.

Now, it seems as though the incidents that have involved Muslims have received proportionately more attention than any other religious or political group (and that's an understatement). That just shows how skewed people's perceptions can be as a result of dominant ideologies promoted by the media. However, the consequences are severe: Muslims (or anyone who looks Arab or Muslim to the undiscerning eyes of Americans) are discriminated against; they get detained for hours whenever they travel because they are deemed automatically suspect.

The reality as demonstrated by the FBI data makes it absolutely clear that Muslims are being treated unfairly.

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